My experience going to Berlin, Germany, was filled with a lot of walking and businesses around every corner. I remember waking up in our hotel, then walking downstairs and out of the building and being presented with a myriad of bakeries, local shops, and tourist attractions. Roads were minimal, and I could get around almost everywhere on trains or just walking. And when everyone is walking around, this encourages more shopping because you're always walking by the sweet scent of a candy shop or just something fun to do, compared to driving, where you just whiz by, missing the experience, and the businesses miss out on your shopping.
Why does Berlin have this great ecosystem of business and people while in Salt Lake City all you can find are single-family homes all spread out? This is the big question that will be answered in this article as well as the benefits of having more local businesses around homes.
First, we need to look at how much American cities sprawl out compared to their European counterparts. According to Britannica, “the population of the metropolitan areas of Chicago, Illinois, Kansas City, Missouri, and Baltimore, Maryland, grew by 1 percent, 16 percent, and 20 percent, respectively, between 1970 and 1990, but each area’s geographic extent grew by 24 percent, 55 percent, and 91 percent, respectively.” This shows that while each city experienced some amount of growth in population, there is significant sprawl compared to how much they grew in population. Compare this to Europe, where “around 72% of the population ... lives in urban areas,” according to the European Environment Agency. Now that we know the different makeup of how people live in their countries, we need to know why this is happening.
American sprawl can be broken down into three reasons: cheaper gas prices, higher crime, and faster growth of population. Diving into the cheaper gas prices, American gas is almost $5 cheaper per gallon than in Germany at the moment, and that difference is larger when we are not having gas prices inflated. Cheaper gas prices decrease the cost and therefore the downsides of living farther away in suburban sprawl. Compare this to Europe, which has higher gas prices and higher tax rates on cars, which further incentivizes closer living. The next reason is the higher crime rates in America. For example, according to Brookings, “when New Yorkers were asked to name ‘the most important reason’ for moving out of town, the most common answer was ‘crime, lack of safety.’” This can be compared to Europe as according to Our World Data there were 17000+ murders in the US each year in 2016 and 2017. There were fewer than 5000 murders in Europe in each of those years. So it is no surprise that Americans are trying to move out of the higher crime rates of cities. Lastly, there is higher population growth in America compared to Europe. As more babies have been born in the US, it is hard for developers to keep up with the demand, so people started to sprawl out. Compare this to Germany where there are fewer babies being born, so the development in cities can keep up and they don't need to resort to suburban development.
Now let's take a look at why we should care about closer homes to businesses and having businesses close to homes. Local businesses can massively stimulate the economy. Firstly, there are more job opportunities for those who live near the local jobs, which gives teenagers like you and me more opportunities to get into the workforce from a young age. It is a good way to start working in a lower stress environment compared to the larger corporate worlds. These more local businesses also decrease the need to drive to your job, which decreases the carbon footprint of those businesses and those who work there. Another benefit of these closer drives is that people who can't drive have more opportunities to get going and start getting that dough. These small businesses are also great for the economy; according to Better Accounting, “a recent study shows that for every dollar spent at a small business, 68 percent funnels back into the community.” This funneling of money back into the community helps out with local projects and more growth for that area. Art sculptures like the large whale at 9th and 9th can be built to increase attraction to these areas and make them generally nicer places to be around.
Let's hear from students about what their neighborhoods are like. Maddie Mulford said she lives in “suburban hell.” This is commonplace in a lot of America as real estate is spreading out and quite a lot of places are zoned for single-family homes. With this combo, more cookie-cutter–style homes are popping up each year, leading to longer drive times and confusing roads. It is hard for businesses to develop in areas like these, which are zoned for single-family homes, which Maddie said “makes things so detached from your neighborhood and things become stale.” Now if we compare this to the experience that Omar Alsolaiman has living in Cottonwood Heights, he enjoys walking to the stores with his friends and he likes the convenience that living right next to local businesses creates.
9th and 9th is a great example of this kind of mixed-use zoning and how it has made the area more attractive to live in., which we can see this growth in home prices. This one home started at $424k in 2016, and now is worth $1.3 million. It is important to point out that although housing in Salt Lake City has been going up in price for a while now, this extreme growth is special to 9th and 9th. And this one house is not a special case, as all homes in this area have seen a massive increase in price. The real estate boom correlates with the growth of 9th and 9th as an area, and I bet that home prices in this area will continue to increase.
Now that the benefits of businesses closer to homes are clear, I hope you all can get out in the world to explore different parts of well-designed European cities, notice how businesses impact the areas around them bringing more wealth and energy to an area and enjoy the business by getting some food in your stomach and some souvenirs for your family and friends.